Mona Lisa Smile (2003)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA, 2003.   Revolution Studios, Red Om Films.   Screenplay by , .   Cinematography by .   Produced by , , .   Music by .   Production Design by .   Costume Design by .   Film Editing by .   Golden Globe Awards 2003.   Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2003.   

It is 1953 and Julia Roberts is a liberated California university fine arts professor who gets a coveted position teaching students at a snooty, all-female college on the east coast. Thinking herself perfect for the job, she is shocked when she arrives and discovers an entire society of young women who are only biding their time in school until they can find husbands and live out a happy Stepford dream. Her attempts to open their eyes to the many possibilities of life, which could include marriage should the women choose that as well as their careers, are met with fear and resistance, not to mention all-out open warfare from one student (), whose snooty mother holds a lot of weight with the school’s advisory board. Easily comparable as a female Dead Poets Society, this amiable film gets bogged down in a tired screenplay and uninspiring characters. While it deals with many important issues, its dramatic conflicts are not in the least bit satisfying thanks to its reliance on too many cliches: no inhabitants of the world on display show any characteristics that we haven’t seen in a million other class-conscious Hollywood movies; Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s character in particular, a token wild-child sexpot, tries so hard to not conform to any cinematic standards that she ends up coming off as a bigger cliché than all the rest. Roberts is her usual strong and charismatic self, but the film loses an opportunity by never allowing what could be some deliciously mouthy feminism from someone so talented at being uppity in films really bloom. A sequence that shows the connection between advertising, corporate America and the strengthening of constrictive gender role-playing is about the only sharp revelation to be gleaned here; the rest of it is just soap-opera boredom that is too long by half and too complicated by its overabundance of plot lines to be satisfying or effective.

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